It is perhaps salutary to look back and contemplate the changes one has seen in one’s life. Indeed it can be interesting to look at the changes one has, by one’s efforts, helped to initiate. Some ideas have faded, others flourished. So my attempt to encourage poets to work with eight syllables to the foot has faded as if it had never been, but my inadvertent championing of the first partnership of lady usurers was a modest success.
I suppose people might or might not remember my tale about ‘The Port Naain Philosophical and Debating Society for Ladies of wit and discernment.’ While this did not end well, it did at least end without serious casualties and eventually all was hushed up, smoothed over, and never mentioned again. But of course the young ladies of wit and discernment were not so easily eclipsed. A number of them continued to meet together, and whilst wisely eschewing philosophy were determined to turn their not inconsiderable mental resources into other channels. A group of them, led by Clarretta summoned me to a meeting.
I confess that when I arrived I was surprised by their wisdom; wine was poured for me even as I took my chair. I sipped it as courtesy demands, sipped again and glanced at the bottle. It was from the Bassman’s Spur vineyard ‘The Foiled Taxman,’ from the year of the Double Salvation. No wonder I had to check the label, it’s at least an alar a bottle. They had my entire attention, save of course for the need to delight in the wine as it delicately caressed my palette.
It was Clarretta who did most of the talking, “Tallis, we have a task for you.”
It is always wise to be cautious. “Well if it is something I can do?”
“It is, we need a Pecuniary Intermediary.”
“A what?” The term was entirely new to me.
“We’re thinking of forming a usurers’ joint venture.”
I must have looked blank because she continued, “Basically we have decided to become usurers and start our own small partnership. We think we’ll pick up business with plenty of those who won’t go to the established partnerships.”
“Well obviously I wish you every success but…..”
“But we’ll need to borrow more money to lend. We hopefully will not have enough of our own.”
Now I relaxed. If they needed to borrow money, Tallis Steelyard was the last person they would have come to. I felt that I was, to put it colloquially, at least partially ‘off the hook.’
“But if you’re borrowing it, how are you going to make anything on it?”
“If we’re a recognised partnership we’ll get long term loans at a good rate because we’re considered secure.” She’d obviously given up on me reaching an understanding unaided, because she continued. “So to become a recognised partnership we need a Pecuniary Intermediary to present our case to the Trustees of the Guild who are the ones who will grant us the warrant which gives us access to the money we need.
“Because you are entirely neutral in this matter and the Trustees won’t think it’s a scheme put up to discredit them.”
Thus it was that I found myself sitting facing a full meeting of the Trustees of the Honourable Company of Usurers, Collection Agents and Official Consignees. My first task was to bow politely and present the formal documents. I was then led into a small parlour where I was served excellent coffee, some of those delightful little sugar pasties and was left to sit by the fire and browse a copy of the Port Naain Intelligencer that had been left for the purpose.
After an hour or so I was summoned back into the meeting room and was asked to take a seat. The chair was Beenchkin, a lawyer as well as a usurer. There was one of the Muldeckers (I cannot remember which one), the older Thallawell, Murgaton, Whalhollow and Arubin Zare. The fact so many of them were lawyers should give a thinking man pause before he engages in litigation. Also, and as an aside, I was the only person present who had not seen my sixtieth birthday. As a further aside I would suggest that compared to these men, when it comes to duplicity and deviousness I am a mere babe in arms.
It was Beenchkin who was holding the formal documents.
“Now Steelyard, we’ve read the documents. What do you think of them?”
“Sir, I carried them, I even perused them, but I make no claims as to understanding them. My professional opinion is that they are prolix and lack any internal sense of rhythm.”
He paused and glared at me to see if I was somehow mocking him. After a while he sighed. “Whilst your comments are technically correct, they are not entirely helpful. On the basis of these documents we see no reason for not recognising the partnership, granting it at warrant and admitting it to the guild.”
“Excellent, I’m sure they will be delighted with the news.”
The old man raised a finger, “But are you willing to vouch for them?”
This worried me, “Vouch for them? In what way?”
“Stand as guarantor for their good behaviour. A number of us have seen them in action.”
I could imagine how this would go. I would end up signing something and then whatever happened, Tallis Steelyard would be at fault.
“Can I ask sirs; are any of you willing to accept responsibility for the actions of your wife?”
This produced uncomfortable silence. Then Beenchkin said, “I think we need to deliberate again, could you go back to the waiting room please?”
I was served fresh coffee and another plate of the pasties and took out indelible pencil and paper to try and record some impressions.
With faces leathery
Attempt to entrap
Some business mishap
They’ll surely gift wrap
So I in a handclap
Face double jeopardy
Finally I was summoned to meet the Trustees again. I confess to being more than a little on edge. I took my seat and this time it was Whalhollow who spoke.
“We will need to meet them.”
That seemed perfectly reasonable.
“A social occasion,” Beenchkin added.
“But not a meal,” Whalhollow said with sudden vehemence.
Beenchkin almost smiled at me. “So be so good as to arrange something.”
It was that evening I met with the ladies and reported what had transpired.
Again I sat to one side while they held their muttered discussions. Finally Clarretta summed up the mood of their meeting.
“We shall hold a dance.”
Immediately I could see the genius of her plan. As I made my way to the next meeting of the Trustees I pondered the beauty of it. A meal had a degree of formality, one’s conversation is shared around the table, there is no privacy as such. But a dance! Such opportunities, a charming young lady can manipulate her partner with her wit, fascinate him with erudite conversation or even captivate him with callipygian perfection. Mind, body and spirit combine to provide the perfect battering ram for storming even the most entrenched and reactionary citadel.
I arrived at the Trustees; I gave my reply, and retired to drink coffee while they considered it. After barely an hour I was summoned once more to their presence.
Arubin Zare pronounced their verdict. “Master Steelyard. We have considered carefully what you suggest and we agree entirely. We shall meet with the candidates for an evening of Country dancing at a venue to be organised by your good self.”
The man was a genius; an evil and corrupted genius, but in all candour, still a genius. With country dancing there is no chance of the quiet tête-à-tête, no seductive interplay of bodies. No, in country dancing it is war to the knife!
The ladies took it well. After some brief discussion they agreed that they were younger and fitter and better placed to stay the course. I was instructed to organise matters. The first thing I did was find ‘Old Jerky.’
He has played the bars and inns of Port Naain for many years. Some say that his face looked like the face of a professional prize fighter, but when he called for quiet, even the noisiest bar would fall silent. Mind you even he looked at me askance when I said about country dancing. Still he promised me he’d put together a small competent ensemble. I felt happier with the knowledge that I’d have sober musicians for much of the evening.
I then looked for a venue. The Sinecurists’ Dining Room refused point blank to host the event. Various other places promised they’d get back to me and never did. Finally I booked the upper room in the Misanthropes Hall. This had the advantage that it is a building I know well and the staff seems to like me. If it became necessary I felt I should be able to escape successfully.
Finally the evening arrived. The guests assembled. Immediately I realised that the ladies had made one miscalculation. They had but six in their joint venture. There were over twenty trustees. Finding dancing partners for everyone was going to be difficult.
I had taken the risk of providing liquid refreshment from the budget I had been given, and had had a word with the cook, so that when I gave the signal, her people would bring in a repast. In keeping with the rustic nature of country dancing the repast was game pie and the liquid refreshment cider. To be frank the budget was not overly generous.
I summoned the first dozen dancers to the floor and Old Jerky and his players struck up a merry tune and away our dancers went. It was obvious that both sides had decided that there were to be no prisoners taken. The dances were danced with enthusiasm and at a fair speed. I began to worry a little for the health of the usurers who were no longer young. I feared that we might lose one or two of them to over exertion. I need not have been troubled, at the end of the first dance the first six sat out and another six took their place and the next dance commenced. Still the ladies kept up the pace, but I began to notice problems. A country dance cannot be danced with conviction when wearing a long dress that clings to the legs. By the end of the second dance Clarretta kicked off her shoes. By the end of the third dance, Moli had discarded her dress and was dancing barefoot in her shift.
At the same time the usurers discovered that square toed shoes and tight britches are hardly ideal. Here they had a way out. Being men of a certain age they wore sensible shirts. By this I mean shirts that you tuck so far down your britches that you sit on them. I cannot abide these shirts cut so meanly that they are barely held in place by your trouser belt. It was Murgaton who prepared for his second dance by casting off his britches and shoes and dancing in his shirt. By the time we broke for refreshment everybody had followed where Moli and Murgaton led.
Suitably fortified by cider and game pie, both sides prepared to return to the fray. Four of the maids who had served the supper were encouraged to join the dance and when the cook came up to investigate the disappearance of her ‘girls’ she too was swept up into the fray. It was at least a good hour later when Jerky called a halt to the evening, his bagpipe player had run out of reeds and his fiddle player had collapsed with exhaustion. The dancers danced one last reel and then bowed or curtsied to each other as the fancy took them and then slumped on chairs drinking a last glass of cider.
Finally Clarretta approached Beenchkin.
“Well, are we accepted as a recognised partnership?”
Beenchkin glanced round the other trustees. He took another drink of cider and smiled at her. “Yes. The guild will be delighted to formally accept you as members and I will make out and sign the warrant tomorrow.”
With this he stood up and shook her hand. “Hasn’t it been great fun?”
With that he sank back into his chair. He needed his two sedan chair bearers to help dress him and he was asleep by the time they got him into the chair.
Rescuing random strangers on a whim may be the good deed for the day, but will Benor survive the blood feud he has unwittingly become part of. More importantly can he buy back the victim’s soul?
Anybody wishing to know more about Port Naain life (and the various fascinating methods of losing aforementioned life) might well be interested in reading the latest of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
These are six stories that follow the adventures of Benor the Cartographer, a friend of Tallis Steelyard. (How are the mighty fallen, once Benor was a hero in his own right, now he is introduced merely as a friend of Tallis Steelyard. O tempora o mores.)
It’s called a collection because like the Sherlock Holmes stories, you can read them in any order.
‘Keeping Body and Soul together’ is available via Amazon for a mere 99p
If life is so dull at the moment that you feel the need to see my Facebook page .
On the other hand Tallis also has his own blog here.
In the interests of completeness my blog is at here too.
About the author
Someone once wrote this about him:
“Jim Webster is probably still fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing fantasy and Sci-Fi novels.”
Now with eight much acclaimed fantasy works and two Sci-Fi to his credit it seems he may be getting into the swing of things.
Click the images to go to Amazon.